The Sin of Pride
Adrian Reynolds has been reading a WWII history book that has made him reflect on his own leadership and the sin of pride.
Pride is a damaging sin for any believer.
However, I think it is particularly destructive for leaders as it impacts not only the individual and those around him or her, but the entire church and reputation of the gospel.
Pride is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, do a Bible search in your software for the way that Paul uses the word and you will discover that he often uses it positively to explain an attitude that we have to our rejoicing in the way that God is working in and through us. Paul has a godly ministry pride (e.g. Rom 11:13).
Rather, I am talking about the sin of pride: the ugly, destructive and deadly sin that everybody suffers from. There is (ironically) a pride that says pride is not our sin, though it is undoubtedly that of everybody else.
The reason we need to disabuse ourselves of this view and be honest about our own hearts is the particularly destructive nature of pride. If we cannot or will not own it when it is present, it will end up tearing down everything we have sought – under God – to see built up.
Pride was brought home to me recently reading an historical book about the Second World War. It was Antony Beevor’s new book Arnhem which describes the ill-planned and poorly-executed Operation Market Garden to capture a series of river bridges in the Netherlands in late 1944.
The events are popularly captured in the film A Bridge Too Far but the film hardly does justice to the complete and utter screw-up that the whole operation became (or indeed, was from the start).
In the film, the plucky Brits and Americans battle against the odds and almost get there, finally deciding it was just one ‘bridge too far.’ The bridge in question (at Arnhem) was certainly the apogee of the disaster, but by no means limited to it.
Indeed, in the film Major General Urquhart (played by Sean Connery) seems to simply shrug his shoulders at the calamity, instead of (as is probably the case – though there were no witnesses) punching his superior officer on his return for condemning 10,000 of his men to death and captivity.
I found Beevor’s book hard going, not because of content or style (it is admirably written and superbly readable), but because it details calamity after calamity. There are individual and corporate acts of heroism of course, not least in the First Airborne Division stranded behind enemy lines. But it is true to say, as many have, that ‘everything that could possibly have gone wrong did.’
What Pride Looks Like
But what grates most is the pride of the two British protagonists – Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning (married to novelist Daphne du Maurier).
The plan was badly conceived and poorly planned, but both leaders refused to listen to criticism, would not allow adaptation, and failed to take account of entirely predictable difficulties (e.g. weather). Both were more interested in their own self-promotion (Montgomery wanting to better Patton, and Browning wanting to make a name for himself – he had not been in active battle for the entire war).
After the battle itself these two commanders, alongside General Horrocks, lied about their units performance (especially their foreign ones) to cover their backs. It was pride, pure and simple.
Of course, due to the overall outcome of the War, the debacle can be laughed off or explained away as simply a ‘bridge too far.’ Oh well, let’s get on with it. We won, didn’t we? But in fact, that is little comfort to the dead and injured soldiers, the damage done to the US-UK relationship and – not often reported – the vicious reprisals done to Netherlands citizens including the winter famine that followed, killing many. Moreover, pride left unchecked simply makes bad leaders worse.
This is the way pride works. It destroys. It tears down. It undermines. It deceives. But as leaders, it’s too easy to excuse it or explain it away. It’s always someone else’s issue or failing or inability. It’s never my own pride.
Reading this secular book made me realise the ever-present need to call out pride in my own heart, rather than explain it away. For pride leads to disgrace (Prov 11:2), strife (Prov 13:10), rash words (Prov 14:3) and – ultimately – destruction (Prov 16:18). The answer is to humble ourselves before our mighty God (1 Peter 1:6) not just in relation to our salvation, but every aspect of our lives: including our leadership.
For humility is actually the model of leadership that Jesus espouses and values. His way is the way of honour. “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honour” (Prov 29:23).